Better, Faster, Cheaper

Culture Change at the Waterworks

Earlier this month, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority issued a 100-year, $350 million green bond to fund its Clean Rivers Project addressing overflows of sewage and stormwater into the region's waterways. The issuance leads the way as both the first municipal "century bond" and the first certified green bond in the United States. Innovative both in terms of finance and what it will do with the funds, the entity once known as D.C. WASA and rebranded as D.C. Water is demonstrating that it has changed much more than just its nickname.

D.C. Water has been on a steady path to greater professionalism and innovation for a decade. And across the board, from technology to finance to customer engagement, the utility reflects the organizational acumen and drive of its general manager, George Hawkins. READ MORE

Public Transit’s Costly Compensation Bonanza

It appears that a strike has been averted at the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), but the confrontation is just the latest reminder of what a sweet deal most unionized public-transit workers have.

Between base salary and overtime, the average LIRR employee makes nearly $84,000 annually, over 17 percent more than New York's subway and bus workers. LIRR workers' total compensation is 30 percent higher than for employees of Metro-North, which provides comparable commuter-rail service to Connecticut and upstate New York. READ MORE

Teacher Tenure and the Need for a Culture of Merit

A Los Angeles County judge's ruling last month that tenure and several other state laws governing the hiring and firing of teachers run afoul of the state constitution was a step in the right direction. But governments have more to do if they hope to attract the teaching force our country needs.

In his ruling, Judge Rolf M. Treu found that 1 to 3 percent of California's teachers -- between 2,750 and 8,250 in all -- are "grossly ineffective" and that a single year with such a teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom. The judge went on to note that attempting to fire such a teacher can take as long as a decade and cost between $50,000 and $450,000. That's because of the higher level of job protection that California teachers receive once they are granted tenure after a probationary period of less than two years. READ MORE

How Technology Can Stretch Infrastructure Dollars

The gap between what it would cost to properly maintain and upgrade America's infrastructure and what governments currently spend is vast. Technology alone can't bridge the gap, but the more we learn about its applications, the clearer it becomes that technology can significantly narrow that chasm.

One example comes from South Carolina, where an innovative bridge-monitoring system is producing real savings despite being in use on only eight bridges. Girder sensors installed on a bridge can measure its carrying capacity and be monitored 24/7. The monitors don't eliminate the need for inspections, but the technology does make the need less frequent. READ MORE

Paying the Price to Keep Government’s Best Workers

You run an important state data center. Google and Facebook have moved in nearby and are offering top dollar for skilled workers. How do you retain your best employees? When it comes to situations like this one, governments often lose talented workers because their bureaucracies either prevent them from offering the pay raises needed for them to retain the workers or make it difficult to do so in a timely manner.

The data center example is among the challenges that convinced North Carolina to confront the employee recruitment and retention problem. The state put $7.5 million into a fund this year to help retain workers in high-demand fields and has used the money to hike the annual pay of nearly 3,500 employees by an average of $2,500, or 4 percent. READ MORE